Heathrow Airport (LHR) has hit back at airlines for failing to attract ground staff to work at airports due to low wages, explaining that ground handling staff “do not work for the airport itself and are independent businesses contracted to airlines”. 

“For months ground handling companies have been trying to recruit and train skilled workers, but if their airline customers aren’t willing to pay market rates, then they aren’t able to fill the posts,” Heathrow's Chief of Staff and Carbon, Nigel Milton said in a statement. 

Over 50% of Europe’s ground handling staff left the industry and “many of those with driving skills, such as those who take bags to and from the plane, were snapped up as delivery drivers”, according to the airport. 

Heathrow’s defense comes after airlines’ criticism over the airport’s request for carriers to cut flights in order to comply with a cap on passenger numbers. Heathrow on July 12, 2022, capped the number of passengers it can handle, and asked airlines to stop selling tickets. The airport said it believes airlines, ground handlers and the airport can collectively serve no more than 100,000 departing passengers a day until September 11, 2022. 

Just days after Heathrow announced the new limitations, Emirates was the first carrier to refuse to comply with Heathrow’s demands, saying that they were “entirely unreasonable and unacceptable”.  

The Dubai-based airline added that LHR had given Emirates 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts and threatened to take legal action for non-compliance. However, Emirates has since reached a deal with Heathrow, saying on July 15, 2022, that it had capped sales on flights out of LHR until mid-August.  

Finnair, which said it and other airlines were “under the threat of legal action”, has also been forced to reduce seat numbers on its flights between London Heathrow and Helsinki on July 15-24 and cancel some bookings. In addition, the Finnish carrier said it stopped booking reservations for new flights to London Heathrow until September 11, 2022. 

"I am surprised Heathrow have not been able to get their act together better than this. To tell airlines to stop selling - what a ridiculous thing for an airport to say to an airline," Willie Walsh, director general of IATA, told Reuters on July 12, 2022. 

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